Bad Medicine

Last week a lawyer who has a judgment in the thousands of dollars against me came into my work having no way of knowing that I am the person who, for the last three years,  has sent him a check every month with a penis drawn in the memo line. I didn’t see any point in telling him I, to whom he was appealing for files on other cases similarly ruthless to my own, am Account # 8==[]D

While being steadily employed and and enjoying the accompanying health insurance for most of my life, one of the few times I fell gravely sick was within the first 60 days at a new job in which I of course, had no coverage. This was in the early 2000s.

I am a little embarrassed to admit the circumstances surrounding the night sick came rapping at my chamber door. I had eaten my weight in chicken fried steak (this is where the embarrassment comes in) at Black Eyed Pea (embarrassment squared) and woken up with symptoms my dad assured me pointed to heartburn. I was in so much pain I swore off chicken. I swore off fried. I swore off steak. I swore off black-eyed PEAS: The restaurant, the legume, AND the band.

This seemed to do the trick for a while but soon all food with trace amounts of fat had the power to bring me literally to my knees. Soon I was crawling into emergency rooms, unable to keep food even with no fat down. Then I was unable to keep the painkillers they sent me home with down. They prescribed worthless suppository forms of Percocet in response to my body’s rejection of gritty, half-digested Vicodin.

Then I couldn’t keep my own saliva down.

The pain was a burning hot star behind my sternum, radiating past the ends of my finger tips. Pain came off of every square inch of me like steam off of an athlete’s bald head on a chilly day. The internet said it was my gall bladder but hurried doctors said it was something, ANYTHING that could be diagnosed without costly tests or operations on which they figured they wouldn’t be able to collect. I worked my way through Walgreens’ heartburn and ulcer solutions, and I was even reduced to a flirtation with “all natural” remedies; heaping insult on the injury of a desperate, science-minded skeptic.

After being discharged from the E.R. at dark times of morning with morphine coursing hotly through my veins and my bra in my hand more times than I could count, student doctors finally removed what they described as “the most diseased” gall bladder they had ever seen.

I was proud! I was mortified. I asked if I could have it. They said no. I was pretty sure because it already sat in a jar on a shelf somewhere, beaming gloriously down at curiosity-seekers with all of the explosive pain it caused in my ventral cavity. I pictured it nestled in some kind of Victorian display of taxidermied bodies of elephant men and two-headed things, the cautionary lungs of lifelong smokers and other medical freak shows.

I had no choice but to file for bankruptcy on bills totaling more than $50,000 in my early 20s.

A year later, I had just started another job. Another anomalous period of not having insurance while working full time. The gall bladder pain was back. An impossibility. Unless: Did the doctors just pretend to take it out so I would stop going to the E.R.? Was this the reason I couldn’t have the little monstrosity back? Because it never LEFT?

The pain was identical. The pain was worse. I described it to my general physician (whom I was desperate enough to self-pay) as “phantom gall bladder pain.” He diagnosed me with… heartburn. (I never went back to him.)  I again embarked on another city-wide tour of emergency rooms. With my chart in their hands and no grounds to suspect (even in secrecy, as I’m sure they had before) a gall bladder problem, the doctors took me even less seriously, sending me home with antacids and “diagnoses” of lactose intolerance.

LACTOSE INTOLERANCE. The symptoms were the same: vomiting, pain, and weight loss. I wasn’t eating dairy. I wasn’t eating anything! In 2006, my parents staggered into an emergency room with my listless body draped across their shoulders. I was crying. We all cried. I had begun urinating what looked like blood, in a shade of the sea Moses parted in the Bible, but it was actually the unfiltered sludge urine becomes when your liver is shutting down. 

The doctors were finally ready to “take me seriously”… meaning they recognized I was sick but thought I’d intentionally overdosed on Vicodin. (The Vicodin with which they had supplied me to control the symptoms of my “lactose intolerance.”)

“You could die if you’re not being honest.”

“I wish I would die!” I croaked, “but I didn’t take any more pills than were prescribed!”

It had come to this. The soaring cost of healthcare technology have required this addendum to the Hippocratic oath: Coerce a confession of self-harm before the most basic test on an UNINSURED person. With no other tea leaves to read, they finally pumped me full of contrast fluid and sent me through a scanner. The results showed residual gall stones blocking my bile ducts and shutting down my liver. (I had discovered this on my own with 30 seconds of Googling. Medical license please!)

Forty five minutes and twenty thousand dollars more later, I was cured. I was put to twilight sleep (delicious!) and they vacuumed out the rest of the stones by way of my esophagus. With bankruptcy off the table for six more years, I wrote a letter of vagrancy and the hospital mercifully wrote off the debt.

The physicians did not. A few years later I was served with interrogatories, which I now know (from working in the legal field) are to collect financial information on a default judgment. The process server was like, oh, you don’t remember “this”?

I felt like saying “no” would have been too much of an acknowledgment that there was even a “this” to remember.

Five years after one of the worst times of my life, the physician’s debt, which wasn’t written off by the hospital, and which I didn’t know about it, had been handed off to collections and again handed off to a law firm. It became a thing too big and nebulous to fight. I was sued. My mom signed for the summons and set it aside, and a default judgment was entered against me on the day in court I didn’t know about. I learned a lot of glamorous facts about gall bladders and medical debt and lawsuits. Once my debt was sold to collections and then a lawyer (8===[]D), it accrued interest at a rate of roughly HOLY WHAT THE SWEET FUCK percent. I am still making perfectly manageable monthly payments of OH SHIT! that will mean finally washing my hands of the situation on the reasonable time table of PROBABLY NEVER.

This lawyer was a really nice man on whose checks I’ll probably have to stop drawing dicks out of professional courtesy, but I am still debating on whether I will wish him a happy holiday.


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